MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards: Merchant of the Year

The Mississippi Main Street Association‘s award for Merchant of the Year recognizes one outstanding local business owner who has a flourishing and innovative business and displays an involved commitment to downtown and his or her Main Street program.  On June 21, 2018, Lott Furniture Co. received this honor at the annual MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards in Jackson, MS. The following narrative was written by Ethan Davis and was submitted to the Mississippi Main Street judges panel.

Merchant of the Year

Lott Furniture Co. is Laurel’s oldest business; they have over a century of history in our small town. Rodney Rowell and his wife Angie believe that their business is more than just a means to an end. They believe that it is a resource for them to put down roots in their community.

Lott Furniture

The business is most certainly a family affair. Rodney’s mother, Nelly, worked there for over 50 years, with Rodney and his sister Candy following in her footsteps. In fact, Angie and Rodney met each
other while working at Lott Furniture. Now, their daughter, Keri, is stepping in to continue the tradition. The Lott crew loves history, and they fuse it with present and future in every aspect of their business. They, of course, take payments via credit cards, but they still do their books by hand, still know their customers by name, still care about the person behind the purchase. 

The Lott Furniture business model is revolutionary, but it’s actually not new. The team took Mr. Lott’s original business model—selling furniture on credit—and adapted it to the young couples that move to Laurel. The couples were amazed that they could get amazing furniture and afford it by paying monthly. Lott Furniture is re-educating the youngest generations about building relationships through credit. They also started a series of workshops called Wine and Design that give décor tips and advice on how to turn a house into a home.

However, the most incredible thing about the folks at Lott is their commitment to Downtown Laurel. Their Instagram feed is dedicated to Laurel itself; you’ll only see ads for their products in their stories. Rodney Rowell has been called the cheerleader for Laurel, and a quick look at how much he supports his fellow local businesses attests to that name. He buys everything he can from fellow merchants downtown and is a tireless supporter of Laurel Main Street. Rodney even met with local creative Bethany Byrd of Own Your Hill to create a map of Downtown Laurel and the other merchants there. Lott Furniture paid for the first batch, and it is now a staple in Downtown; every visitor picks one up when they start to explore.

When it comes to Downtown Laurel, the Rowell’s have seen it all: a thriving center of business, a downtown disrupted by urban renewal, the sheds coming down and the streets alive again. Rodney is the go-to guy for all young and older entrepreneurs. He is the epitome of believing, in good times and bad.

Rowell Family

On Thursday, June 21, 2018 the Mississippi Main Street Association hosted their 29th Annual Downtown Revitalization Awards Luncheon at the Old Capitol Inn in Jackson, MS.  Each year Mississippi Main Street recognizes excellence in downtown revitalization and honors local Main Street champions.  This is a wonderful opportunity to show the success of Laurel Main Street, to exchange ideas with other Main Street organizations, and is especially encouraging to see other thriving and successful communities. 

MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards: Best Adaptive Reuse Project

On Thursday, June 21st, the Mississippi Main Street Association hosted their 29th Annual Downtown Revitalization Awards Luncheon at the Old Capitol Inn in Jackson, MS.  Each year Mississippi Main Street recognizes excellence in downtown revitalization and honors local Main Street champions.  This is a wonderful opportunity to show the success of Laurel Main Street, to exchange ideas with other Main Street organizations, and is especially encouraging to see other thriving and successful communities. This year, Laurel Main Street was honored to receive four awards.  Over the coming weeks, we will showcase each award and the work that went into achieving them.  

Best Adaptive Reuse Project

The transformation of the Burton Building on the corner of Magnolia and Oak Streets was The Burton Buildinghonored as Best Adaptive Reuse Project.  As stated by the Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA), “This award is granted to the best adaptive reuse of a building that has outlived its former use, including conversion to housing, office space, multiple businesses, public meeting space, restaurants, cultural centers, etc.” The following narrative was written by Ethan Davis and was submitted to the Mississippi Main Street judges panel.

Laurel Main Street Executive Director, Judi Holifield, used to say that rehabilitating the Burton’s building would be the ultimate domino effect; all of the other buildings along Magnolia Street would be sold if only that one could be. After all, anchor buildings like this one can make or break an area. The problem? The Burton’s building needed love and a lot of it, and it needed someone with the vision and patience to breathe life back into the structure. So, the building sat vacant for years—a prominent, depressing eye-sore—that is, until Josh Nowell came along.

Josh had been an oil man until the industry took a turn for the worse, and he needed a new career path. He decided he would invest in Downtown Laurel, starting with the  most ambitious project it had to offer. The renovation took over two years. Floors were removed and structural support added; the old façade was taken to make room for a new one; the outside of the building was washed, and a new paint job was in order; the vintage sign was restored and saved; electricians and plumbers and demolition crews and designers and just about every professional you can imagine contributed at some point. Clearly, it was a labor of love.

The building is now full and is home to two home goods stores, a coworking space, an
engineering firm, and a restaurant. Josh renovated to suit each tenant, which allowed the facades to be different and yet complementary. Each one is beautifully restored with lots of exposed brick and original wood and tiles. The integrity of the building was maintained while allowing new businesses to find a home. The old awnings were replaced with new metal ones of a deep gold color, complimenting the blues and greens on the exterior. CSpire fiber, a cutting edge, hyper-fast internet, was also installed, making the building a fusion between past and future.

The best part of this story is that Judi Holifield was right. Once the Burton’s building was brought back to life, new businesses opened up on Magnolia Street, including Molly Renee’s Boutique, Guild and Gentry, The Loblolly Boutique and Crescent Line Toys. The building has provided not only space for businesses to grow and flourish but has also given the history a chance to continue in new and interesting ways.

 

 

“The One” Awards

Once a year the Laurel Main Street organization honors members of our downtown community for their commitment to the Main Street cause and their dedication to our community with “The One” Awards.  The awards were named for a phrase that pops up again and again during brainstorming or event planning sessions: “Those who say it cannot be done should get out of the way of THE ONEs who are doing it!”  On April 26th, we celebrated the dreamers, the doers, and THE ONES whose desire to leave things better than they found it is evident in all their pursuits.

This year, we enjoyed a beautiful evening at the home of LMS board members, Mallorie & Jim Rasberry.  Attendees enjoyed perfect spring weather, great food, and fellowship with those who share their affinity for downtown Laurel.  Awards were created by local calligrapher and artist Jade Yoder of Paper Studio and were presented by Laurel Main Street President, Lew Yoder.

Downtown Business of the Year

Chad & Terri Knight, owners of The Knight Butcher, were named Downtown Business of the Year.  They are THE ONES who have completed such a tremendous amount of work on their storefront and have also worked tirelessly to create an engaging and inviting atmosphere.  Their work outside their store, in the downtown community, is widespread as well, and we appreciate their dedication to downtown Laurel and Laurel Main Street!  Whether they’re rallying downtown merchants, creating secret Easter egg hunts downtown, or hosting Laurelpalooza, the Knights have shown their love for downtown knows no bounds.

THE ONE Award

THE ONE Award is presented each year to Laurel Main Street’s top volunteer.  This year, James & Nece Hill and Agape Church received THE ONE Award.  The Hills began their service to downtown Laurel ten years ago when few others had a vision of what downtown Laurel could be.  They renovated the former Woolworth’s building and built a modern church in the center of downtown.  Agape Church’s desire to serve the community around them is a direct reflection of the Hill’s heart for service and love of Laurel.  Agape Church is responsible for Downtown Movie Night, one of the most anticipated family events of the summer.  Without their manpower, Downtown Movie Night wouldn’t happen.  Agape Church will also provide the volunteers for this summer’s Downtown Laurel Farmers Market.  We are so incredibly thankful for the Hills and the congregation of Agape Church for their loyalty and dedication to Laurel Main Street and the revitalization of downtown Laurel!The ONE Award

 

Oak Street Salon: We’re at Your Service

Friends With a Common Dream

With over 30 years of combined experience, Oak Street Salon is the go-to house of style in the business district of Historic Downtown Laurel.  Owners, Deidra Maddox and Betty Gaudet met more than 20 years ago while working at a salon together, and have been a dynamic duo ever since. Throughout many years of working at different places in town, thOak Street Salon opened in Downtown Laureley always dreamed of owning their own business together.  Nearly three years ago, they took the plunge and opened their business on Oak Street in Downtown Laurel. Their vision for the future is simple; hold your business accountable to the reputation you have created for yourself.

At Your Service

Business owners, Deidra and Betty, take pride in the special services they provide their clients.  The pair specialize in the latest trends for cuts, colors, hair treatments, waxing, manicures, and pedicures. They also cater to their clientele by offering valet parking to those in need, booking early morning and late evening appointments, and working in walk-ins.  Oak Street Salon places true meaning behind the term “at your service.”

Oak Street Salon’s clientele spans generations.  Deidra and Betty have come to think of their clients as an extension of their own families as well.  With all the combined experience and expertise of the stylists at the salon, there is no new trend or style that Oak Street Salon can’t perfect. The key to their success is to treat everyone like family. When it comes to service, they truly believe in the benefits found in staying in touch with the younger generation, along with learning valuable lessons from the older generations as well. Oak Street Salon will always provide an open, welcoming environment for all their clientele, and look forward to their bright future downtown!

We Finally Got a Piece of the Pie

We Finally Got a Piece of the Pie

Hospitality is a staple of the South.  It’s what we’re known for.  As part of Laurel Main Street’s mission to promote economic development in the downtown area, we’ve implemented signage to help visitors find their way around town, the Laurel Welcome Center, multiple beautification projects, welcoming banners, and, most recently, lights above our streets.

This year, our beloved city stands to see more growth and tourism than ever before and it’s important that we all put our most friendly faces forward.  Tourism in the United States is a TRILLION dollar industry.  If we can become known as a place that provides excellent customer service to its tourists, our city will thrive, and continue to attract more people who will fall in love with “The City Beautiful.”  We’ve finally got a piece of that trillion dollar pie and it’s time to serve it up with a smile!

Laurel — We’re At Your Service

I’m sure the readers of this blog don’t need a lesson on the importance of first impressions, but you might know someone who does.  The fact is, each person, each point of contact, can add so much to the ‘welcoming’ experience for guests!  Each business in Laurel is a stakeholder in the tourism industry, and it’s up to you — business owners and employees — to make the most of your investment in our community.  In a recent conversation with Mayor Magee, we discussed the hospitality industry and our desire for Laurel to be known as a place that is literally “at your service.”   After all… company’s comin’!

Welcoming Beyond Words

A welcoming feeling is easy to create.  In fact, the smallest gestures can make the biggest impact.  Offer a warm welcome — Direct eye contact, a smile and sincere words.  Introduce yourself and check on your guests often.  In short, be the best version of yourself.

Unfortunately, an unwelcoming feeling is just as easy to create.  Looking down while speaking, no introduction or use of names, rushing customers out the door, or being discourteous can all contribute to the feeling of being unwelcome.  When someone feels unwelcome, it makes them uncomfortable. Guests who feel unwelcome become less inclined to spend more, come back again, or refer others. Why would they? They did not feel welcome or welcome to come back!

A warm and friendly feeling is something that definitely starts at the top and trickles down. If you are a business owner or manager, you can start by ensuring that your employees feel welcome in their own work space.  Welcome them to work each morning. Post signs in break rooms and make sure that a welcoming feeling begins each day.

Another way to be helpful to those visiting Laurel is to be aware of what’s going on around town.  You’re more likely to recommend something to a visitor if you’ve experienced it yourself, right?  So get out and explore your city.  Familiarize yourself with new businesses or points of interest.  Be ready with a suggestion for places to eat and things to see.  If you draw a blank, you can always refer them to the welcome center, or better yet, be of service to them and offer to find out.   Remember, it’s the little things that make visitors feel welcome, and sometimes, after a long car ride, the best way to be of service to someone is to point them toward a good meal.

While we have amazing architecture, stores and restaurants, the people of Laurel are the cornerstone of our community.  Residents are walking, talking advertisements for the city.  You have the opportunity to give tourists a heaping serving of southern hospitality.   How will you choose to be remembered, Laurel?

Bravo to business leaders who are already making this effort!  Keep up the good work and feel free to share your tips for a friendly and generous reception to our guests.  Creative welcomes and unwavering courtesy and congeniality will keep our guests wanting more.  When you create an unforgettable welcome, you welcome referrals, repeat business, and additional income!  The City of Laurel and the Laurel Main Street organization are at your service.  Join us!